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Del Martin, 87, center left, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, center right, are married by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom , center, in a special ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool)

From California to Rhode Island, the question of gay marriage is an issue of national debate. Currently a few key states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, now grant marriages to same-sex couples. But there is a long way to go. And for many people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, the struggle to legalize gay marriage across the U.S. remains the priority political battle. But others in the community disagree. They question whether gay marriage should be the central issue of their movement. Believing that, as this hot social issue sizzles, other important issues have been put on the backburner.

On this edition we present freelance producer Lisa Dettmer’s documentary, “Beyond Gay Marriage,” co-produced by freelance producer Elena Botkin-Levy.

Thanks to freelance producer Lisa Dettmer and co-producer Elena Botkin-Levy for producing this show.

 

Featuring:

 

Brian Basinger, San Francisco AIDS Housing Coalition executive director; Lisa Duggan, New York University Social and Cultural Analysis Department professor; Kenyon Farrow, Queers for Economic Justice executive director; Tommi Avicolli Mecca, SF Housing Rights Committee volunteer housing coordinator; Andrea Shorter, Equality California Deputy Marriage and Coalitions Director.

For more information:

AIDS Housing Alliance
San Francisco, CA

Equality California
San Francisco, CA

FIERCE
New York, NY

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Human Rights Campaign
Washington, DC

NYU Social and Cultural Analysis Department
New York, NY

Queers for Economic Justice
New York, NY

San Francisco Mayor’s Office
San Francisco, CA

Articles, Blogs, and Reports:

Beyond Gay Marriage
A website Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships

Human Rights Campaign – ‘A Year to Win’
‘Human Rights Campaign’ outreach ad on YouTube

Music:

“We are Family” by Sister Sledge
Sand Castle Instrumental

 

Episode Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

  • This week on Making Contact.
  • I feel like gay marriage is a way for people with privilege to gain more privilege and almost forget about the people who are still struggling.

  • From California to Rhode Island, the question of gay marriage is an issue of national debate. Currently a few key states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, now grant marriages to same sex couples, but there’s a long way to go. And for many people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, the struggle to legalize gay marriage across the US remains the priority political battle.

But others in the LGBT community disagree. They question whether gay marriage should be the central issue of their movement, believing that as this hot social issue sizzles, other important issues have been put on the back burner. I’m Tena Rubio, and this is Making Contact, a program connecting people, model ideas, and important information. On this edition of Making Contact, we present freelance producer Lisa Dettmer’s documentary Beyond Gay Marriage, co-produced by freelance producer Elena Botkin-Levy.

[CHEERING]

  • So a lot of you know that this is actually part of a big movement right now. This is part of the biggest gay rights movement we’ve ever seen in the world, and you are part of that.
  • During the heat of the battle against Proposition 8 in California, I attended a lesbian and gay marriage rights rally in Oakland, California. It was an emotional rally with stirring speeches.

  • We’re not going to be silent, are we?

  • No.

  • Can we chant that out a little bit? We will not be silent. We will not be silent.

  • There among the handheld signs proclaiming Marriage for All, I felt out of place. This is my queer community, but I didn’t really feel like I belonged. I’m not married or coupled. I have no children, and I don’t want any. I wondered if anyone else in the queer community felt this way. Could I be the only queer person who didn’t feel that gay marriage was important to their life? And I wondered, how is it that gay marriage came to be the primary issue of my community?

  • We’re all Americans. We all deserve equal rights. And that’s what we’re here for, to talk about the equal rights and celebrate our diversity between everybody.

  • Even though it seemed to me like gay marriage was the primary issue of my community, it isn’t. In fact, according to a recent Hunter College study, the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender or LGBT people actually see economic discrimination as the number one issue in their lives. I visited my local queer center in Berkeley, California, and went to a gay senior event to find out what other queer folks are thinking about the gay marriage movement. And here’s what they had to say.

  • There are other issues I think that are affecting me more immediately than marriage ever well. I would much prefer not being terrified of getting beaten up.

  • I think the campaign for marriage equality is, very white very Eurocentric, especially with the fact that it did get passed, and both the black and Latino communities where demonized by saying that they were the majority of voters voting in favor of it, when in fact black and brown people are a minority in the state of California as far as voting.

And I feel like, in my experience, there’s been a lot tokenizing, like, yeah we do people of color. Work we have this one black person working here. And they talk to black people kind of thing, as opposed to everyone working on their issues and white people checking their privilege.

  • I don’t hear the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender community thinking about the issues of seniors’ lives– for example, the issue of health care, the issue of affordable housing. As we age, most of us are living on very limited incomes. I received an email from the Courage Campaign, and asking us what issues they should focus on. I looked at the list of five issues. There was not one thing on that list that affected me personally. There was not one word about seniors’ lives and the needs of seniors who don’t have a lot of money.
  • I want to know from the gay community what’s going to happen after gay marriage. OK, we get these rights to marry. What about all the discrimination that happens internally to people of color, to trans folks, to young folks, to elders? I feel like gay marriage is a way for people with privilege to gain more privilege and almost forget about the people who are still struggling.

  • James and I are both on disability programs. We’re both disabled people with AIDS.

  • That’s Brian Basinger. His story is one example of how some queer people continue to struggle. I talked with Brian at his home in San Francisco where he lives with his partner James. Both of them survive on the money they get for their AIDS related disabilities.

  • I’m on a program called SSDI, and he’s on a program called SSI. These poverty programs are very strict, and they don’t let you have any money. And so they want James to live on $845 a month. And my income from Social Security Disability of $1,300 a month would have disqualified him from SSI because it’s a poverty program.

You’re not allowed to have anything in order to qualify for that income and also for the health insurance that’s attached to it. So if we would’ve combined our households through gay marriage, then they would have said that my $1,300 no longer makes him impoverished. And then, he would have also not gotten the Medical health insurance.

  • Even if Brian and James wanted to get married, they couldn’t, not without losing their disability support. And their story is not unusual for queer people with AIDS.
  • And so it annoys me when these people– when people who are promoting the marriage agenda try to use us, disabled people with AIDS and poor people and those of us who are really going through these real life critical struggles to advance what is really a set of benefits that are not part of our reality. There is nothing about gay marriage that benefits my life today. It has nothing to do with me whatsoever.

  • So why is it that gay marriage became such a key issue for the LGBT community? Lisa Duggan is Professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. She says social programs like Welfare, health care, Social Security, all have been eroding since the 1970s. And now the cuts to these public programs have shifted the burden to the private sector.

  • The slow erosion of the kind of social supports that were put in place between the ’30s and the ’70s were eroded from the ’80s till now. So if you have fewer services provided by your employment and fewer benefits provided by your employment and fewer services provided by the state, then who’s going to take up the slack? Well, the slack gets taken up in private households.

  • And, Duggan says, the focus on the family became the dominant narrative.

  • So when the same sex marriage movement then starts to come really into prominence in the 1990s, a lot of the rhetoric of saying marriage is so important, marriage is a sign of our full adulthood, marriage is how we show we’re responsible, marriage is the key to citizenship– that kind of language adds to the marriage promotion of the conservative marriage movement and ends up promoting privatized marriage, private household as the site for social support to the neglect or disadvantage of collective social supports.

[MUSIC – EDDIE VEDDER, “RISE”]

(SINGING) Gonna rise up, throw down my ace in the hole.

  • We are in the midst of profound change for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Carrying on the legacy of leaders before us, today the Human Rights Campaign is at the forefront of this movement to meet the dreams of equality a reality.

[MUSIC – GEORGE MICHAEL, “FREEDOM! ’90”]

(SINGING) I won’t let you down.

  • That’s a 2008 video from the Human Rights Campaign’s A Year to Win. Images of diverse and historical radical queer people and social justice activists like Harvey Milk, Audre Lorde, and MLK appear.

(SINGING) ‘Cause I would really, really love to stick around. Oh, yeah.

  • The Human Rights Campaign is a key national organization that puts gay marriage at the top of their agenda.
  • I would say that the landscape of LGBT organizations is pretty polarized. And there are national organizations which have prioritized marriage equality, which are basically organizations that are structured around private fundraising. They don’t have constituencies. They’re not grassroots. They don’t mobilize. They raise money in order to either lobby or litigate. So I’m talking about HRC, Lambda, the Equality Organizations. And those are the organizations that are making the decisions about national policy, and they tend to be dominated by prosperous white people.

  • But on the other hand, she says there are grassroots organizations that have a different structure.

  • Then there are lots of grassroots organizations, and they tend to be local. Here in New York, we have the Audre Lorde Project. We have Queers for Economic Justice. We have FIERCE. We have organizations that are much more democratic in their decision making structures, that are predominantly people of color or else they are significantly people of color.

And those organizations tend not to prioritize marriage and to prioritize a range of other issues around poverty and racism and immigration and health care and retirement and violence on the street and things like that rather than marriage, the military, and representation in the market.

  • One of these organizations is Queers for Economic Justice in New York City. It’s a nonprofit that promotes economic justice in the context of sexual and gender liberation. Kenyon Farrow is the executive director.
  • The effect of gay marriage on the rest of us who are working on other issues in queer spaces is huge. There are funders who want to fund and only fund marriage or people working on access to military service or any of those number of things. The way it usually gets framed to us as grassroots organizations is, well, we don’t know what impact you’re really having or what impact you’re really going to have.

So if you’re not working on a very specific and narrow policy change but you’re doing more work that’s actually building a grassroots base to do organizing among marginalized queer communities like Queers for Economic Justice and working with a lot of queer and trans homeless people for whom the groundwork to do that kind of organizing and advocacy or even creating policy solutions that folks are interested in takes a much longer time.

  • And in the meantime Farrow’s concerned that the mainstreaming of the gay community has severely impacted the services provided to people at Brian Basinger and his partner James.
  • The gay marriage movement took the air out of the AIDS movement, as well as the funding. So while we were as a community fighting for gay marriage, the governor decimated funding for the State Office of AIDS.

  • Brian Basinger injures not only a California resident, he’s the executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Housing Coalition. They’re one of the few groups left in the AIDS field in San Francisco that works with homeless and low income people with AIDS.

  • When I heard that $43 million was spent on Prop 8 to pursue such a narrow agenda for such a small part of the population that would benefit from it I was livid, because at the same time– the same time– they’re cutting $85 million in HIV/AIDS care in the state of California. They eliminated funding for housing.

And that’s housing, residential care facilities for the chronically ill. That’s for seriously ill people. And so over here, they’re trying to talk about those of us who are ill and in vulnerable places as their slogans, but in reality, they’re eliminating funding.

  • Basinger’s partner nearly died from AIDS. So the idea that AIDS is no longer a central issue on the gay agenda deeply troubles him.
  • There’s a mythology that people aren’t dying of AIDS anymore, but the reality is that AIDS is still the number one cause of premature death of gay men in San Francisco. It’s still killing us. Here in San Francisco, almost 90% of new HIV infections are in what they call men who have sex with men. The overwhelming majority, and even a super majority of people with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco, are living in extreme poverty. There’s this mythology that gay men are wealthy. The reality is that gay men are twice the national average to live in poverty. We are poor. Poor people see this pursuit of gay marriage as really a middle class and an upper middle class issue.

  • We’ll be right back.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You’re listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. If you’d like more information or for CD copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736. Because of listeners like you, this show is distributed for free to radio stations in the US, Canada, and South Africa. To find out how to support us, download shows, or get our podcast, go to RadioProject.org. We now return to our presentation of Lisa Dettmer’s documentary Beyond Gay Marriage.

[APPLAUSE]

  • And by the way, as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

[CHEERING]

  • It’s inevitable. This door is wide open now. It’s going to happen. Whether you like it or not, this is the future and it’s now.
  • In March of 2008, in my home state of California, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom stood on the steps of City Hall and congratulated the people of California for their victory. The state Supreme Court had ruled in favor of gay marriage. Proposition 8 later overturned that decision. But many queers in the state were a little baffled that gay marriage had become a major issue. I visited the Housing Rights Committee Office in San Francisco. Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who is a volunteer housing coordinator, told me there was more to the situation.

  • So Gavin Newsom runs for mayor, and he runs an anti-homeless platform, Care not Cash. And one of the first things he does is he does this whole gay marriage thing. He was pressured by the gay marriage folks basically to do something. He didn’t respond to them. So the way I understand it, his people, basically– the people surrounding him, who were a reasonable number of white, gay men, A-gays, obviously said to him, Gavin, you lost the Castro because your opponent won the Castro.

Now, it would be interesting if you did something to win back the Castro and win back the gay vote which is very strong in San Francisco. So I imagine that was his motivation, really, in doing the gay marriage thing. I also don’t think that he thought that it was going to get the kind of publicity it did or that it would become what it became, but it would make him a hero in the eyes of people he wanted to be a hero in the eyes up. Instead, it made gay marriage into the issue and the only issue for San Francisco queers.

  • Avicolli Mecca says other issues are more important to queer people, like homelessness.
  • If you do any work at all with homeless people, you see that there are a large number of homeless folks who are queer or transgender. A lot of people with AIDS who are homeless as well. I think nationally, the statistic that was recently done by the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force in conjunction with the National Coalition on Homelessness, found that– was at 45%, 50% of homeless youth in America are queer.

In San Francisco, the number is usually considered to be about 30%. Now, those numbers are way above what’s believed to be our percentages of the population, i.e. 10%. And that’s scary. That’s scary to me. And I think that should be a wake up call for our movement. But it hasn’t been.

  • At a hearing with the San Francisco’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee, scores of people testified about their experiences as homeless queer people in the shelter system. The hearing lasted more than two hours.
  • Hi, my name is Anak Sul, and I’m in my 14th month of being homeless in San Francisco. I’ve been here for three years. I moved here from Texas to get better HIV care. And in general, being LGBT, I don’t have family that cares for me, and I’m looking for it here in San Francisco. When I was staying in the shelter at the MSC-South, I was assaulted verbally by a gentleman repeatedly calling me a fag. When I walked to the floor monitor and asked them to handle it, they just shrugged. And I was very upset. It just made me feel extremely unsafe knowing that there’s nowhere you can go to if somebody is verbally assaulting you.

  • Equality.

  • What do we want?

  • Equality.

  • I can’t hear you. What do we want?

  • Equality.

  • When do we want it?

  • Now.

  • Of course, many LGBT people want equality and are actively fighting for gay marriage. Andrea Shorter is deputy marriage and coalitions director for Equality California. She says that marriage is very significant to her on a personal level.

  • It’s really about potential. See, I believe that when you are holding people back and you keep them in a state of a second-class status, we know that through history, through human history, that we lessen people’s opportunity to really give of themselves and really be a full partner in our communities.

If I get up every day, I go to work, I pay my taxes, I should be able to go to the clerk’s office like anyone else in a city hall and with a woman that I love and say, we are ready to make a contract, a commitment, and as citizens in the state of California, as citizens in the United States, under constitutional law, should be able to do that.

  • And other people at pro-gay marriage demonstrations agree with Andrea, especially when it comes to race.
  • We, gays, blacks, Latinos, all of us are protected under the same law. Don’t let them put us against each other.

[CHEERING]

  • I know that one of the perceptions of the issue of marriage is that it’s a luxury issue for white gay folks and middle class, upper middle class folks. I don’t agree with that. I’m an African-American lesbian. But I am aware of the perception. I’m also aware of the perception that predominates, popular notions of who is LGBT. And what I mean by that is that, again, it’s mostly– it’s gay white folk.
  • But other queer people of color see it differently. Kenyon Farrow from Queers for Economic Justice says the issue of gay marriage is a luxury issue that focuses on one segment of the gay and lesbian community, people who already have lots of access.

  • The segment of the gay and lesbian community, if you will, who already have so much access, already own property, already have some established wealth or ways to gain wealth, that marriage becomes the final hurdle to their becoming fully white and enjoying all of the privileges that white supremacy has to offer. I think that is very clear to me.

  • In California, the liberal uproar over the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning gay marriage, that uproar continues. The big controversial finger-pointing part of that uproar is the fact that African Americans, who turned out in much larger numbers than in ’04, voted in favor of Prop 8 by a 7 in 10 margin. So the state and the country is left to grapple with the question of what it means for civil rights.

  • Even liberal media programs like the Rachel Maddow Show racialized the way gay marriage was banned in California. And those statistics later turned out to be incorrect. Farrow says the media has simplified the conversation around LGBT issues.

  • I think that both the mainstream media as well as a lot of progressive or more independent left media very much bought into the platform of the mainstream gay rights movement as it was and didn’t really offer a lot of critique of that movement nor even offered space for different voices within a more broader LGBT or queer community, people who were dissenting voices about marriage, about access to military and so on and so forth, to even have any space to discuss their particular oppositions to some of that movement.

So there’s a way in which I think both the mainstream media and certainly– and progressive media have often just bought whatever the sort of mainstream gay rights arguments are in a way to appear, I think, not to be homophobic, but really haven’t worked to find or to promote dissenting voices within LGBT or queer movements.

  • If gay marriage is not the most important thing for the majority of queer people, what is?
  • I absolutely think housing and the issue of homelessness and poor and low income queer folks is a huge issue for our work. I think that violence and anti-violence work is a huge issue. And I would also say HIV/AIDS is still a huge issue. And probably, actually, more broadly, what does the health care reform package mean for the LGBT community?

  • So if we had taken those $43 million that were spent on the failed Prop 8 effort and really invested them in a broader social justice movement, an LGBT social justice movement that looked at all of our needs, then we could have prevented new HIV infections, especially among young African Americans, and we could have sustained a change for all kinds of vulnerable people.

  • What’s needed instead are other kinds of retirement supports and health care and access to drugs. And there are a lot of other things that people need. If you’re talking about the youth population or the aging population, or even if you’re just talking demographically about what seems to be the majority of the population, it doesn’t seem that marriage rights are in material, concrete terms the most pressing thing for most of the population.

  • Lisa Duggan is also part of a group, Beyond Gay Marriage, that advocates for recognizing a greater diversity of households and partnerships.

  • We want domestic partnership and reciprocal beneficiary for members of our community who don’t want to or aren’t in a position to marry. We don’t want health care and social security allocated through marriage. We want universal benefits.

  • From the attorneys I talked to, I learned that the benefits people would get from gay marriage in California are the same benefits that people already had through domestic partnerships. So instead of marriage, Lisa Duggan says the concept known as reciprocal beneficiaries is one way to imagine legal partnerships.

  • So that, for instance, the great thing about reciprocal beneficiary is that it allows you to have a partnership with someone with whom you do not claim to have a sexual relationship. It could be your best friend or your sister. And you could then get next of kin recognition or certain kinds of tax rights if you were economically intertwined.

Or perhaps like a Golden Girls household could have the way that they actually are interdependent recognized for purposes of medical decision making and taxation and things like that. That reciprocal beneficiary as a form that actually exists in several states, that form of recognition really takes the regulation of sex out of– away from the state altogether.

  • And that form of recognition is not available for Brian and his partner James.
  • Our basic human rights are being violated in such fundamental ways, and then they’re spending all of their money for these very esoteric, higher level efforts. And they’re calling it a civil rights movement, but you know what? You can’t have any other kind of civil rights if you don’t have a roof over your head.

  • Although gay marriage is still the primary issue for most of the media and mainstream voices from the LGBT community, there are plenty of queers who dedicate their lives to issues that affect the poor and disenfranchised members of our communities. I have learned that there are hundreds of other queers just like me who are dedicating their lives to making our communities more inclusive to queers of color and women, homeless and imprisoned queers, and queers with AIDS, and to making the whole queer community truly part of our family.

And while we may not be that visible, we are continuing to fight for this vision just beneath the radar. For Making Contact, I’m Lisa Dettmer– Oakland, California.

[MUSIC – SISTER SLEDGE, “WE ARE

FAMILY”]

(SINGING) We are family. I got all my sisters with me. We are family. Get up everybody and sing.

  • That’s it for this edition of Making Contact. Special thanks to freelance producer Lisa Dettmer who produced this documentary, Beyond Gay Marriage, and to co-producer Elena Botkin-Levy. For a CD copy of this program, called the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736. Or check out our website at RadioProject.org to get our podcast, download past shows, or help make a difference by supporting our work. Making Contact is supported by listeners like you. You allow us to continue to offer our programming for free to radio stations across the US, Canada, and South Africa. Thank you,

Lisa Rudman is our executive director. Pauline Bartolone, producer and online editor. Andrew Stelzer, producer. Khanh Pham, associate director. [INAUDIBLE] station relations. Alannah Daigle, Rashida Harmon, and Juaquin Palomino are interns. And Dan Turner, Ron Rucker, Jenn Gordon, Alton Byrd, Alfonso Hooker are volunteers. And I’m Tena Rubio. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.

(SINGING) –are family. I got all my sisters with me. We are family. Get up everybody and sing. Living life is fun and we’ve just begun to get our share of this world’s delights.

 

Author: Radio Project

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